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Provo • As expected when the first one was hatched five years ago, BYU's annual football media day is always about hyping the upcoming season, expressing optimism and confidence in the group that head coach Bronco Mendenhall brings back and laying out the successes of the previous 40 or so years.
There was plenty of that on Wednesday at the BYU broadcasting building, but there was also a subtle shift toward downplaying expectations a little more than usual. Quarterback Taysom Hill, receivers coach Guy Holliday and even Mendenhall himself tempered the hype to one degree or another.
For instance, Mendenhall went a good 35 minutes into his roundtable discussion with non-TV reporters before uttering the words "national championship," and even then, it only came after he was asked if his goals for the program have changed since he took over in 2005.
"I have had a really clear vision since about Year 3, and I have shared it with the president, the athletic director and the vice presidents," Mendenhall said. "I have it written down. I envision the day where BYU wins the national championship while promoting our faith through football. And that's the shortened version."
The coach, who is entering his 11th season, made that statement in a strained sort of way. In the past, he has voluntarily stated his belief that the program has that capability, well before anyone else broached the topic.
"The expectation is the same, I just don't think it does any good [to talk about it as much]," Mendenhall said. "I have made the standards so clear, and alluded to it so many times, there really isn't much else to say. So, I have just made a conscious effort really, at my wife's prompting as well to not bring it up."
There is also the fact that three straight 8-5 seasons, unsatisfying to BYU's fans, if not its administration, have taken a heavy toll on the program especially in the confidence department. Last year's collapse when Hill got injured after a 4-0 start still weighs heavily in Provo.
Running backs coach Mark Atuaia said there was no staff-wide or team-wide directive to go easy on the hype in the fifth annual late-June gathering to discuss the upcoming season, but acknowledged the tone on Wednesday was a bit different than in previous media days.
"It will be interesting to see what happens, but I am excited to go find out," Atuaia said.
Sure, there's reason for some optimism, plenty of coaches and players admitted.
BYU's offense should be one of its best in the Mendenhall era if Hill and fellow senior Jamaal Williams stay healthy, and Mendenhall said there has been very little offseason attrition freshman defensive tackle Isaiah Nacua is the only defection since spring camp.
But as Hill noted, the killer September schedule that has BYU opening at Nebraska and playing Boise State at home before traveling to UCLA and Michigan "is definitely on our minds."
Hill, who pronounced himself "fully cleared" by the team's doctors after suffering a season-ending fractured leg and ligament damage in the fifth game last season, said the players are keeping most of their goals to themselves this year.
"This is the time of the year when everybody is most optimistic, right?" he said. "Like, 'we are going to win every game, we are going to do all these things.' But I think, at the end of the day, what I hope to see is us as a team reach our full potential. I don't know what that looks like yet. I don't know what that will be. But I think, as we do that, we will be in a position to win every football game that we play."
Said Mendenhall: "We have a good team. If we stay healthy and the leadership is set, which I think it is, they give us a good chance. It could be fun."
Among the defensive players, there is a sense that Mendenhall taking back the play-calling duties and running the defense although Nick Howell retains the defensive coordinator title will be the golden ticket to success. But even those players and their coaches spoke more cautiously than usual on Wednesday.
Howell did not appear at his designated table for interviews during the 45 minutes allotted to non-TV reporters.
Linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said the defense "has a chip on its shoulder because guys feel like they let this program down last year," but even he kept the hype in check.
"You learn not to talk about that stuff," Poppinga said. "We learned really quickly last year that one player, one play, one drive, changes the entire season. And sometimes that stuff is out of your control."
Defensive end Remington Peck said the there's an emphasis on starting fast "to get those bandwagoner fans back on track, so we have that support we need."
Holliday, the receivers coach, said he would rather "be about it than talk about it."
" 'Don't believe the hype' is a really great phrase," Holliday said. "Believe the actions, not the words. Anybody can talk about knocking somebody out in 12 rounds, but you gotta show up and throw punches."
Highlights from BYU football media day
• The Cougars announced a home-and-home scheduling agreement with Toledo, with a 2016 game in Provo on Sept. 30 and a 2019 game in Toledo on Sept. 28.
• BYU announced its home games against Boise State (Sept. 12) and UConn (Oct. 2) will begin at 8:15 p.m. MDT and be on ESPN2.
• Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he's not interested in seeing BYU return to the Mountain West or any non-Power 5 conference
• Athletic director Tom Holmoe said there are some "sweet games" on BYU's future schedules that have not been announced yet
O Kragthorpe: BYU's booking trips to Nebraska, UCLA and Michigan is a risk/reward move for the possible future. > C2